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Sherlock Holmes (A Game of Shadows) – DIGITAL COPY review

Best Buy had a few BluRays on sale last time I strolled through. One that caught my eye was Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows.

It had a sticker indicating that it included a digital copy. “Boy, would it be neat if I could just use the digital copy instead of spending the time ripping the BluRay myself” I thought. Boy, was I wrong. To be fair, it’s a decent attempt by Warner Brothers. They get points for trying.

 

Getting (redeeming) my digital copy.

This part was remarkably easy. They include a tiny sheet in the case with simple directions.

I put in the disk, popped open iTunes on the Mac, found the disc under “devices”, typed in my code, and typed in my password for the iTunes store.

It had a tiny hiccup – for whatever reason it accepted the code but didn’t do anything the first time. I typed in the code again, and something “woke up” & began copying the digital copy from the disk into my iTunes movie library.

Within 5 minutes I had the video in my iTunes library, complete with all the metadata you’d expect. At that point I could do anything I could do with a normal iTunes purchase (watch it on the computer, copy it to devices, watch it through Apple TV, etc).

The bad news… It’s limited by the iTunes DRM. It’s tied to my account. I can’t watch it in VLC or throw it on a hard drive to plug into the back of a TV/BR player. Windows users can use iTunes (a good idea) go through some other DRM (which is probably a worse experience – it looks like for them it requires a mix of Windows Media Player and some Adobe junk). And Linux users are screwed altogether.

The Specs:

For anyone wondering, here’s a short summary…

-The video is 1.8GB in size.

-The resolution is 640 x 364 (roughly what a DVD encode would be with a similar aspect ratio).

-It’s H264, baseline L3.0 profile, ~24 fps, ~1480 Kpbs for the video (~1998 Kbps overall), 128 Kbps audio (AAC-LC)

No, that’s not a mistake. 1.8GB yet only DVD quality. I kid you not.

 

Device Compatibility

The good news is that it should play on just about any Apple device. They were incredibly conservative with the encode parameters. Even an old 1st generation iPod touch should handle it.

This is of course assuming you have 1.8GB to spare on your device.

 

Quality and OMG why is it 1.8GB thats huge!

Here’s where things fall short.

It’s an ok DVD-quality rip. As in, not astonishing quality, but it’s alright. Problem is, there’s no justification for it being a whopping 1.8 GB. None.

It almost looks as though they found out the max video bit-rate the older Apple devices would play (around 1500kbps) and just targetted that bit rate.

To add insult to injury, the audio is encoded at a measly 128 kbps. Every Apple device (even the old iPod touches) support 160 kbps audio within an MPEG4/H264 video. Why in the world would somebody create an insanely large encode (I’ve yet to see a DVD rip that was anywhere near 1.8GB), yet not even push up the audio quality to above what most would consider the bare-minimum?! Audio takes barely any space compared to video!

 

Where the digital version makes sense, and where it doesn’t.

Portable devices

For those intending to play the video on their portable devices (iPhones, iPads, iPod touches, etc), it does work. And the resolution/size of the device itself (in most cases) is such that it’ll look nice and crisp while you’re watching. I’d go so far as to say the digital copy was *intended* for your portable devices.

However, the 1.8GB filesize might be too much to bear. Most portable devices don’t come with a heck of a lot of space – if you’re going on a trip and want to bring some movies with you, adding this one will severely cut down on the number of others you can bring along.

So if you have more time than you have free space, you might want to rip the BluRay yourself.

Computer & TV (Apple TV)

Since you bought the BLURAY, the DVD-resolution digital copy probably isn’t going to jive well with you. Unless you… bought the BluRay in order to watch DVD quality stuff…… (maybe the BluRay was on sale but the DVD wasn’t?).

The digital copy just wasn’t intended for folk who watch movies on a normal-sized (or large) screen.

It’ll generally make more sense for you to create your own Blu-Ray rip. You’ll either get a higher resolution (better quality on your screen/TV), or lower file size out of it. Quite possibly both.

 

Where Warner Brothers needs to improve

Here’s the situation.

WB is (correctly) starting to address the “customers want to watch content when they want on the device they want” issue. They went from not even having a presence in the “digital copy” space, to, well… finally existing. But there’s a lot of competition in that space. Just because it took the movie industry years to wake up, doesn’t mean that everyone else was asleep.

And bad news for you, movie industry…. everyone else (release groups for example) is better at encoding your content than you are. Right now, your digital copies are sub-standard. And you’re asking customers to pay money for them.

 

So what should WB do?

Focus on having the BEST digital copies out there. You have to beat the release groups here, especially since you’re expecting your paying customers to eat DRM too. You can’t be the worst anymore, you have to be the best. Throw 2 different digital copies on the disc next time. A “baseline” copy (DVD quality) which is SMALL in size but looks great on portable devices, and a larger 1080p copy that looks great on computers & TV’s.

In addition, for the 1080p digital copy you (should) throw on, if you can’t make it better than the current “rips” out there, you might want to consider dropping the DRM. “oh noes, we can’t do that! we needs our DRM or people will steals our stuff!” you might say. Nonsense. Take a look at the copies of your content on The Pirate Bay. Sort by the number of seeders/leechers, and you’ll find that the vast majority of people are not “stealing” the 1080 p stuff, despite looking better and being just as “free” as the lower rez stuff. They’re taking the low-res stuff. There are reasons for this, but they’re not important for now. All you need to know is that if you provide a well sized 1080p digital copy without DRM, the sky won’t fall and your customers will be happier.

Ok, I’ve ranted enough.

Conclusion:

+ Digital Copy installs very easily (through iTunes anyway)
– Digital Copy has DRM
+ The DRM is through iTunes (they had some sense and didn’t try to home-brew)
+ Digital Copy should work on nearly every (Apple) device
– Digital Copy is only DVD-quality (no BluRay quality included)
– Computer/TV watchers will still end up wanting to rip their own copy from the BluRay
– Digital Copy is way too large in file-size (not justified)
– Digital Copy is only 128 kbps audio (should be 160, given the massive file size)
+ Warner Brothers is at least trying to be viable in the digital copy area (need to do better though) 

 

Hopefully in the future they’ll improve. In the meantime, it looks like I’ll be ripping the BluRay myself.

  • ella

    this really worked for you? itunes doesn’t do anythign for me while the dic is in, and were to i find it in ‘devices’?

    • ella:

      It showed up in the iTunes sidebar as a “Devices” category amongst the existing Library, Store, Genius, & Playlists categories. This was done on the Mac-side of things, by inserting the “digital copy” disc with iTunes already open. If you’re using Windows, I suppose it’s possible that they might force you to run the software on the digital copy disk regardless (browse to it via “My Computer” in that case). Could be worth a try anyway.

      Best of luck.

  • Daniel D

    Actually, the digital copy you received is the exact same file that iTunes downloads if you buy the SD version of the movie in the iTunes Store. This is how digital copies work except they copy from a file on the disc rather than download directly. An advantage to this is that it’s now a “purchase” in iTunes so you can download it as many times as you like from your account, although for Blu-ray they really should have made it a HD copy, it’s possible the file size of HD copies (atleast 2.5+ GB PLUS the standard definition copy of 1 + GB) was too much to fit on the disc and they want more money from the HD purchase.

    A plus that wasn’t mentioned for these types of DIgital Copies is that a Dolby Digital 5.1 track is embedded in the file that can be accessed by Apple TV or possibly, computers with digital audio out, that could explain the larger file size. 160k AAC seems to be reserved for the HD purchases for some reason.